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Handwork as Heritage

He practices various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials. But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress.

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education


The practice of handwork connects us with our cultural heritage, to our ancestors who practiced handwork out of necessity to create items that met essential needs. The absence of big machines and electric power bring quiet and calm. We feel rooted, nostalgic, peaceful, and purposeful as we practice a skill that was obtained in our youth, creating heirlooms that will be passed on to our children.


For Ambleside students in the home and school classroom, the handwork lesson is also a time of rest, contemplation, joy, accomplishment. Rest permeates the air. The atmosphere is calm and quiet, with the music of a studied composer sharing the space. Contemplation is in the time that allows for thinking and reflecting upon lessons and friendships. There is place for the Holy Spirit to enter in. Joy in working together in unison and in helping one another practice new skills. And accomplishment in the process and waiting and finishing… and considering someone to share their gift with…


Our hands have completed the task with patience,
We have done our work with care,
Our fingers have worked as friends together,
And we have our friendship shared.


As we teach handwork, emphasis is placed on the skill to be learned rather than the project to be produced. We discuss the value of perseverance and industry, precision and neatness, patience and practice, creativity, and good taste. The teaching begins with slow, careful demonstration of the skill to be learned, with attention to training the hand and the eye for precise work.


Practice, to the point of excellence, comes before the project. Slipshod work is not to be permitted; there is no hesitation in “taking out” some stitches or having the student begin again. The message is clear: “You are able to do neat, precise work.” Thus, the projects are carefully chosen so as not to frustrate the student, starting out simply and well within the child’s “compass;” then moving to the more complex as the skills are secured.


(Pictured is a beautiful needle-felted family ‘photo’ created by an Ambleside homeschool mom and given as a recent birthday gift to her beloved Mother-in-Law).